If you haven’t been following the (excellent) coverage elsewhere, just how bad is the “Firewall of the United States,” the draconian Internet dystopia misguided legislation in the US proposes to create?

That legislation is so vague, so far-reaching, so poorly-designed, that it potentially threatens all kinds of sites musicians regularly use. And little wonder: a backwards legislation process in the US has locked out the very Internet and tech companies that have until now been glimmers of hope in a stagnant US economy.

The crux of this issue is the impact on legal sites, and democracy and speech online. For an alternative view, the MPAA argument is that existing Digital Millenium Copyright Act safe harbor provisions would continue to exist under the new legislation, thus protecting legal sites – like this one. However, I find compelling the arguments of speech and legal policy advocates who point to differences in the way the enforcement mechanism works here, which could potentially invalidate that safe harbor and shift undue burden to publishers before they have time to respond.

Social networks, file sharing services, and other tools we use (lobbyists, for instance, call out even things like MegaUpload as “rogue”) are endangered.

The presumed answer, that “you’ll be fine if you have nothing to hide,” is the worst kind of defense for what can only be described as bald-faced censorship. Because complaints are guilty-until-proven-innocent, because the legislation is too broadly worded, the net effect is that any site publishing online could be brought down by a simple complaint – even from a competitor or aggrieved party. The history of “snitch”-based censorship of all the worst kinds is littered with cautionary tales of what happens when that’s the standard.

And that’s to say nothing of the potential for higher costs, negative growth, and legal burdens on the entire Internet service ecosystem on which sites like this one depend, not to mention new DNS security chaos triggered by turning the US – still the largest Web consuming country – into something that resembles China, Iran, and Syria.

An alliance of people who claim to speak in the name of musicians, content creators, and copyright holders are right now proceeding on a course that would destroy a lot of the most innovative tools that protect your livelihood. They have some reasonable intentions in mind – a justifiable fear of big sites that flaunt copyright rules to share anything. But they extend that into a policy that unjustifiably expands its reach to legal sites. That’s why:

Google / YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that have helped us spread the word about our music are opposing it, afraid it could shut the entire sites down or usher in a new, more censored, shrinking network. (Heck, even LinkedIn and Mozilla are worried, and a site that shares resumes hardly seems the kind of “rogue” and pro-infringement villain the record industry keeps trying to paint as its critics.)

Kickstarter, the tool that has helped artists fund themselves and do preorder sales, is opposing the bill for fear a single instance of infringement could block everyone’s projects.

Tumblr, a key publishing platform used by many musicians and artists, warned its users via a dashboard that the legislation threatened their ability to express themselves online. Tumblr has a specific call to action.

Democracy activists worry that this silence voices of democracy around the world by blocking the tools they use to get around censorship (ironically, by creating similar censorship in what had been a country with online freedom).

The ultimate irony: because the SOPA legislation would block DNS and not IP addresses, it would do little to stem actual piracy of music and video. Instead, it threatens the freedom of the artists themselves to use these tools.

And again, because you could see an entire website blocked, not just a specific infringement, the legislation threatens to rob artists and musicians of tools on which they rely to promote their own music that they themselves own.

None of this has stopped the record industry lobbyists from remaining full entrenched in their position. For instance, this week, RIAA’s Senior Executive VP Mitch Glazier responded in an article headlines:

RIAA Question To Rogue Sites Critics: What Specifically Is Your Answer?

Glazier’s argument:

The next time you hear a vague, sweeping critique, backed by the platitude that of course intellectual property protections are supported, we encourage you to ask: what specific legislative proposal do you have that would meaningfully address this problem?”

Actually, no. In the event legislation is really, truly insane, it’s not in any way the burden of the critic of that legislation to propose an alternative. Here, let me illustrate:

The Protect Humanity from Deer Ticks Legislation, which proposes to … burn down all the forests.

Critic: I have a proposal. Let’s not burn down all the forests.

See? It’s concrete, it’s specific. Yes, our critique is “vague and sweeping,” because the legislation in question is vague and sweeping and wrong.

It’s absolutely, totally valid to make the concrete, legislative action not voting for a bad bill. The RIAA ought to know that; it’s pretty basic lobbying.

Yet again, though, those organizations let down their labels, who are now struggling to find new growth and revenue, with legislation that hurts those same members. Who is the rogue, anyway?

There’s far better explanation of this legislation than mine, and it’s not too late to act:
http://americancensorship.org/ [Electronic Frontier Foundation, with brilliant infographics and detailed, fair background reading]

Stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation [EFF]

Stop the Great Firewall of America [New York Times op-ed from New America Foundation senior fellow Rebecca MacKinnon]

I need your help–please. Call your congressperson? [Terrific, straightforward editorial from an engineer, Matt Cutts – one who happens to work at Google, but writing on his own time]

SOPA, controversial online piracy bill, gains support as lobbying intensifies [The Washington Post early this morning, which illustrates to me in its quotes from the bills’ supporters just how out of touch they are]

Sham of SOPA hearings riles up key internet figures [Silicon Republic on how tech and Internet firms were locked out of the legislation’s creation]

Great, clear Lifehacker story on how this works and what to do

Shocklee.com has done a terrific job of covering this story as it evolved, speaking of artists, as well as via their Twitter feed

OpenCongress.org links to information on the bill, full text of the bill, co-signers, actions, supporters and opponents, and even dollar-sign figures on how much lobbyists on each side of the issue (yes, including opposition) have given to elected officials.

From there, you can read the bills, make up your own mind, and if you’re a US citizen, talk to the people who represent you in Washington.

H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act
S. 968, the Protect IP Act of 2011

Among Senate bill opponents, as you can learn from that site – even though the Senate bill is at least a little less draconian – American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, and Human Rights Watch.

If you’re a citizen of the United States, I would ask you to call your Representative now. Tell them calmly (remembering, they may even be on your side, and regardless, they’re your elected representative) what you think.

If you do call your Representative, let CDM know what their office says; feel free to leave that response in comments.

Okay, actually, I also have a little question for the RIAA. Photo (CC-BY-SA) mjaysplanet.
  • Chris

    I will spread this article to as many people as I can. As someone who reads online news constantly, somehow, this is the first I'm hearing about this.

  • VSide

    I'm a regular reader from Italy, so totally across the world. Same thing happened in Italy as well but the law didn't pass. I'll spread the word about ur article since i believe that freedom of speech and mainly the liberty of being an artist now is very much important!!

    Keep up the good work Peter!! 😉

  • in New Zealand they have a law which means if they catch you sharing copyrighted files 3 times (with three warning letters), they can fine you $15000 nz&nbsp ;http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10747782

  • my question is why don't they just look for better ways to sell there content espeacially visual material (tv shows etc), rather than losing money pursuing fines, 

  • robert

    the thing is that they want to have total control over the internet and in no way do they want to compromise.Those fools are still stuck in the industrial era…

  • citizen

    This is how the music business does their business.  They are just trying to get an advantage any way they can.  If they do get this bill passed, they simply won and are better at business than whoever they get shut down.  It's survival of the fittest.

  • The people pushing the hardest for this kind of draconian legislation are bloodsucking parasites who make their extravagant living off the backs of creative people but produce nothing of their own. They are the ultimate pirates, and the sooner they're thrown in the dustbin of history along with the sharecroppers, robber barons, and slave owners of the past, the better. Fuck them and fuck their laws.

  • Human Plague

    In other news, congress passes bill declaring pizza is vegetable.

    Seriously, not a joke. Google it.

    Doing great America!

  • mister-rz

    In a freemarket economy like the united states, this sort of communism, soviet style has no place. Even tho I say that in jest it does seem like they are channelling their inner stalin.

    This seems like the classic closing the gate after the horse has bolted. It's not 2000, there are a myriad of ways to get legal content now online. The tech industry especially apple and amazon, smaller independents like netflix, a whole host of labels, creatives and individuals with vision, have filled the void left by the mainstream music and film industry, who missed the net as they were to busy with the old model set up for plunder. Price fixing of cd's anyone.

    My argument against this is a simple one, namely this legislation goes against two key tenets of western culture, namely freemarket capitalism and darwinism. Freemarket due to the fact the major labels and film studio's ceded control to the tech industry, smaller independents, creatives and consumers with file sharing due to inaction regarding the opportunity the net presented. 

    Darwin due to this lack of adaptation or evolution if you like in regards to the onset of the net. Is it really that humane to keep these too big to fail industries on life support and introduce draconian legislation and austerity measures, when other more competent people and industries can fill whatever void they leave, when nature takes its course?

  • engine

    but this law applies only to us citizen right?!

    well, welcome to the club.

    in my country it seems like the "virtual" presence of most industries has already deep influence in our politics.

    hence we got ugly restrictions for many internet portals/platforms.

    esp. youtube and alike

    so please us- people, keep up against this


    make a move!

  • BlueSpark

    Time for a firefox extension that implements peer-to-peer DNS.

  • bliss

    The special interests that are lobbying for this bill to pass Congress see the Internet as the distribution channel of the future. They see it as THEIR distribution channel. That's what this is all about. It's not about piracy, it's about controlling media on the Internet the way they controlled Tower Records, HMV, Virgin Megastore and other major/minor retail operations that sold music, movies, TV shows and videos.

    The RIAA and MPAA want Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter — and Apple — to be answerable to them, not the current way it is today. They are so far behind that brute force control of the Internet is the only workable solution they can come up with, because what happens when true Internet content creators start producing entertainment and news that is comparable to what appears in movie theaters and on broadcast networks? That's competition the majors don't want, and they know that it's only a matter of a little while before a small group of very bright people figure out how to make that work.

  • I guess p2p secure networks à la Diaspora would be enough to make this obsolete right? But Google and Youtube could get pretty hurt yeah